Day-1,Wednesday, 28th February, 2018, Yangon-Mandalay by pm flight
In the morning, at 08:45, we left home to take an hour-car drive through the heavy traffic to the domestic terminal at Yangon International Airport to catch Rgn-Mdl flight, Y5-505, 11:00_12:25, operated by the private-owned Golden Myanmar Airlines. As usual, we were given snacks, soft drink, tea, coffee on board the aircraft, ATR-72. Arriving at the Mandalay International Airport, we took a private taxi from the Mandalay airport taxi stand to drive for an hour to check-in at the Yadanar Theingi Hotel, which is good for the price & located at the downtown of the Mandalay city, where we had our lunch, took a rest for a couple of hours at the hotel and met our old friend from Mandalay we haven’t met for quite a long time enjoying conversation over soft drinks & coffee , before we had a walk in the nearby streets of the hotel looking for & trying at several ATM machines to take some money as you could imagine, some of the machines did not properly work or run out of money, had dinner at the Panyoma Indian restaurant recommended by my Indian-food-crazy cousin, bought a new belt-bag at a shop at the Ocean super market on the outskirt of Mandalay by taking a taxi, India-made Tuk Tuk back & forth as the zipper of my old one no longer worked, then slept a sound sleep at the hotel in peaceful Mandalay, the last royal city of the last two Burmese Kings, Mindon & Thibaw before the whole Burma was annexed into the British India Empire in 1886.
Day-2,Thursday, 1st March 2019, Mandalay-Khamti by AM Flight
Early in the morning, we left Yadanar Theingi Hotel with our hotel-provided-breakfast boxes to take an hour-drive car to the Mandalay Airport to be in time for Mdl-Khm flight, UB-677, 07:30-08:45, run by Myanmar National Airlines, MNA. After the check-in procedure, the clearance of security & immigration, we had our breakfast over coffee at an expensive cafeteria at the airport inner waiting lounge before boarding the ATR-72 for our half-an-hour-delayed flight, caused by being foggy in Khamti, bound for Khamti. As usual, we were treated with tea, coffee, soft drinks, snacks on board the aircraft. Arriving at the small Khamti Airport, collecting our checked-in bags brought by the airport loaders from the plane, taking an airport taxi for 10-minutes to Myanandaw Guest House, so far regarded as the best in this area though it has simple basic rooms with the attached bathrooms but no AC & no breakfast, we checked in at the guest house. Without taking a break, after leaving our bags at the guest house, we went on foot for at least half-an-hour to see U Khanda, who belongs to Heimi/Haimi Naga clan and is a Chairman of the Naga Literature and Cultural Association, Khamti, at his office which lies at one corner of the festival ground located at Ziphyukon Ward to discuss with him for almost 2 hours, what we could do, where we could visit and the do’s & don’ts we should know in advance in this virgin land for us in dealing with the Naga Tribe, not to cross the line or not to cause the cultural shocks by mistake, that might be unknowingly caused by just a sheer lack of knowledge of their cultures. Then we were shown around the compound and allowed to take pictures of the following:
(1) “The photos hang on the wall of the small office” including one photo of the former Burmese leader, U Nay Win dressed up in the Naga traditional clothes, wearing the decorated Naga headgear with boar-fangs & bird-feathers, holding spear, hanging knife on his waist, in a happy smiling pose.
(2) “The ceremonial drum”, which is the hollow dugout-tree-trunk, used for the yearly held Naga new year festival.
(3) “ Pang ” one of the different names of Morung Institution *, with the beautifully-decorated façade of wooden posts or planks, on which are the hand engraved figures of monkey, ape, crocodile, tiger, boa-constrictor, a couple of hornbills, quail, buffalo-horn, boar-fangs, elephant-tusks, gong, spears, chopper, axe, a head-gear-with-bird-feathers-&-boar-fangs, a scantily-clad bearded-mustached Naga man with earspools, necklaces, armlets & a scantily-dressed Naga woman wearing a necklace and earspools, holding a spear and a chopper with a gong on a piece of cloth, just in front of her genital.
* The Morung was a key institution in Naga society of the past. It was a kind of youth dormitory, a large building decorated with elaborate carvings. But its function went far beyond providing separate shelters for adolescent boys and girls who lived and slept in it until marriage. It was also used as a guard-house during times of war when warriors stayed in it. That was why the Morung was built next to the village gate or at the strategically most advantageous place. But more important is that it was in the Morung that traditional knowledge, skills and customs were transmitted from generation to generation. ( Naga, A people struggling for self-determination by Shimrei Chon Luithui & IWGIA 2001)
(4) “The decorated posts” at one corner of the compound, set up on such previous special occasions as the new year festival when animals sacrifice is also done part of the tradition.
Then we left on foot for lunch at Ywa-U Burmese Restaurant, led by U Khanda, on the way, making a photo stop at “ one more beautifully designed Pang ” in the compound of the former natural leader of the Naga tribe living in Khamti, who is said to do a lot for the development of the Naga people living in this area during his life time. After having lunch, U Khanda went back home in a different way and we walked along the Chindwin bank, through the area around the Khamti market where we bought, at one shop, coffee-mix, biscuits & other presents for a Naga village we planned to visit in the late afternoon, back to our guest house and took a rest for a few minutes. At about 3 p.m, our rented-4WD-car driver picked us up at our guest house first, then picked U Khanda up at his office, who was in his traditional jacket, before we headed to Lawe village of Yawngkon Naga, which was about half an hour drive on the outskirt of Khamti, driving past the Khamti Prison where the driver loaded off the bag of the ordered stuff taken away by the prison warden. When we got to the village, we stopped the car at the village chief’s house, walked for a couple of minutes to the village Buddhist monastery to pay respect to the senior Naga monk living there alone, supported by the village community. We offered him some of what we bought from the market plus cash and the Buddhist monk recited some Buddhist scriptures and wished us all the best in life, that what we need, of course. After talking to the monk and having a nice conversation with the village administrative team who waited for us at the monastery, we started to explore the village on foot, we visited just the 3 houses and we were warmly welcomed, treated well to local tea plus “khaungrei”, which is alcohol (made from millet) and though I don’t drink liquor, just to show my respect to their local tradition, I tasted it just a bit and I felt it’s extraordinarily good. After leaving the monastery, we walked past the village chief’s house, we saw his mother and requested her to allow us take the picture of her with the tattoos decorated on her face but as she was too shy to be taken picture, we didn’t. Then at the first visited 2-storied-stilt house made of bamboo, wood and thatch, we took pictures of a senior Naga man aged a bit over 80, still in good shape & healthy, who came from the remote Naga land bordering India, to settle in this village for the rest of his life, who used to be a hunter and tries to speak Burmese barely enough to communicate with us but the village chief & U Khanda interpreted what he said to us, we also took some photos of his wife whose face has tattoos but in blurred condition, we gave them some money out of respect & affection. At our 2nd visited house, where we were given tea & alcohol, we took pictures of the Naga woman, the hostess of the house and she also has tattoos on her face, we gave her some money & food from the airline, she and her grandchild ate it with great enjoyment then we walked back to the Village Chief’s house, enjoyed a cup of tea offered and gave him the remaining presents bought from the market for the villagers to be distributed by him, we also gave him a longyi ( Burmese nether garment ) for his personal use. Then we drove all the same way back to our guest house, dropped U Khanda at his office, said good-bye & thanks to him. Arriving back at the guest house, paid the driver his car rental fee to visit the village, took a rest, had a shower, ate out at the neighbouring Kachin restaurant called “Malikha” and collecting information on all the possible ways of travelling in the Naga land from one of the restaurant owners who used to be in the tourism industry, then walked back to the guest house and made an overnight stop there in Khamti.
Day-3, Friday, 2nd March, 2019, Khamti_Htamanthi_ Leishi, By Boat / In A 4WD Car
At 05:45, we left the guest house, on foot, had whatever is available for breakfast at a local tea shop, which is 5-minutes away from the guest house and near the jetty where we took the upper/first class of one private-company-operated public boat leaving for Htamanthi at 06:45 downstream in the Chindwin River, for 4 hours more or less, taking pictures and enjoying the river life of bamboo rafts drifting downstream, small gold-panning sites on the sandbar, herds of buffaloes relaxing along the banks, village maids washing clothes, bathing with the children playing, swimming, fishermen fishing with their fishing nets cast or set up with the plastic bottles or buoys, lively water fowls in carefree manner , etc.,. During the cruising time, to use one of the 2 small roofless-squatting toilets at the bow of the boat needs a skill as one has to walk along on the narrow ledge of either side of the boat, holding the wooden or bamboo hand rail on the roof-edge of the boat, to get there either to urinate or defecate. Here the first class means about 4 or 5 rooms of cir 6 ft long, 6 ft wide and 3 ft high each with bamboo mat to sleep/sit uncomfortably on it just behind the boat captain’s room, and the normal cushion seats with the backrests for the ordinary class, both classes are uncomfortable but no choice if we want to be on the famous Chindwin River, which is the biggest tributary of the Irrawaddy River, the longest river of Burma. In other words, there is no chance to stretch your legs during the 4-hour-Khamti-Htamanthi cruise but the scenery along the river-cruise course is beautiful to make up for your suffering. The boat fare for both classes is fair and reasonable.
At about 11:00, our boat landed at Htamanthi, we got off the boat, inquired about the transports of motorbike, 4WD car to proceed to Leishi, had lunch at one local restaurant while we were waiting for any available 4WD car, collecting more information about the trip to Leishi from the mother & daughter, who are the restaurant owners. In the end, with the help of the porter Zaw Zaw, who can always be found in & around the jetty & car terminal of Htamanthi, we got the India-made-4WD jeep (Mahindra Bolero Camper) owned & driven by a young Naga man, Ko Lupaut, sharing with 2 more passengers____ (1) one Naga girl of 6th standard student, who was going back to her far-away-village in the direction of Leishi after her final school exam in Monywa, where she studies at a free boarding school, (2) with one middle-aged man, who was going back to Leishi working there as an engineer at the road construction company ltd., owned by a Naga family, if I’m not wrong. Both the car and the driver have no official licenses and the seating plan is 2 passengers are to sit on 1 seat originally designed by the car factory only for 1 passenger next to the driver, 4-passengers are to sit on a long cushion with backrest just behind the driver’s row & big enough in maximum only for 3 passengers. At the back of the car in the open space, there are 4 more passengers and cargoes + luggage which are also loaded on the car roof just above our the seats of the driver and ours__ the car is a sort of double cab.
It took 3-hour drive from Htamanthi to Leishi, on the way, made an half-an-hour break at one tea shop located at 25th mile, where I had instant noodle soup, tea and my two travel companions had tea to freshen us up. And we noticed that many trucks, 4WD cars & light trucks fully loaded with the Naga tribal people of Tangkhul clan, are coming down from the opposite direction with the flags representing this subtribe to go to Phaphoat Naga village by the Chindwin River, where the festival will be held for the religious and cultural gatherings for 7 days and each one takes 3-days with a day break in between. Phaphoat village is just a bit more than 2 hours downstream on the Chidwin River from Htamanthi in the direction of Htamanthi- Homalin. We thought of going there if time & chance permitted us after our main mission of survey trip along the route of Khamti-Htamanthi-Leishi-Htamanthi-Homalin was successfully over.
We got to Leishi, one of the 3 townships in the Naga self-administered zone since 2008 when the military-drafted Constitution stipulated it together with other 5 more self-administered zones of a few more tribes, which is at an altitude of 5,000 ft / 1,524 m above the sea level, composed of the several Naga villages, populated with roughly more or less cir 30,000 people. We drove straight to the Yedaung Village to stay at the best guest house of Tangkhul Naga, U Shida, the 3-storied ( the British way ) “View Point Guesthouse” on the summit of the low lying hill, compared to the higher elevated downtown of Leishi, where there is the Naga New Year festival ground with “ Pang ”, a line of 2 restaurants and a couple of the grocery shops and 1 clothes shop which is a stone throw-away from the others. As the 5 or 6 rooms with the attached bathrooms at the guesthouse were already occupied, we had no choice but to be content with the 2 rooms with a public bathroom outside, for our 2 nights stay there __ no AC & no breakfasts. Normally there are some more homestays in Leishi and accordingly uncomfortable compared to the 2 year-old View Point Guesthouse but it takes half-an-hour to walk all the way up from this guesthouse to the festival ground of the downtown where the restaurants are located, though they seem to be not that far from each other. Anyway, the guesthouse provides the stay-guests with the car transports back and forth for breakfast & dinner twice a day. After check-in, a rest for a while, having a shower at the guesthouse, we left the guesthouse by car past the festival ground to the only beauty parlour, where our driver dropped us and drove back to the guesthouse, of a couple who do not always seem to be at the shop even in the working hours for the reasons they know and we saw it already closed so one of our lady trip participant didn’t get a chance to shampoo there. After eating fritters at a shop nearby the beauty parlour, and collecting information from the shop keeper who is Burmese, we walked back to “Myat Restaurant”, one of the 2 restaurants just opposite the “ Pang “ on the festival ground, stopped to take nice pictures of the ranges of the hazy rolling mountains in the distance from the top of hill with the helicopter landing spot made for the state leaders/guests, not far from the restaurant, then had our delicious dinner of fried chicken, fried fish fillet and Mithun (a.k.a ‘Cattle of Mountain’) meet curry with the steamed rice for my travel companions and for me is steamed rice mixed with table salt & cooking oil, before walking back to the guesthouse for half an hour or so in the darkness, and had a sound slept for our first night in Leishi.
Day-4, Saturday, 3rd March, 2018, Leishi- Nearby Naga Villages + Chaungson at Matugi
Early in the morning, Ko Htein, Managing Director of U Shida’s construction company called Saramayri Strength Company Limited, came to ask us whether or not we would take their car service to visit the nearby Naga villages which we discussed with him the previous night. In fact, he explained us yesterday where we could visit during our stay in Leishi and we told Ko Htein, we decided to take their car service for their offered fare to visit the 4 Naga villages to the north-west of Leishi and to visit “ Chaungson at Matugi plus Neihtwettaung ”, which perhaps can be translated into English as “ the confluence of the creeks/streams plus the Sun Rising Mountain “. Our driver-cum-auto mechanics, Ko Linn and three of us, first went by car for breakfast at Zaw Café near Myat Restaurant at the festival ground, where we had Shan noodle and Indian flat bread aka paratha/prata with boiled pea in oil, seasoning over tea/coffee & green tea and only in this morning, could our lady be able to shampoo at the only and one beauty parlour in Leishi after her breakfast while we were waiting for her at the café. Then we started our wonderful car drive along the beautiful peaceful scenic mountainous route, going up and down the mountains for at least 2 hours to Chera, the last small Makuri/Makury Naga village in the Burma territory with the military guard post on the way to & not far from India.
We got off the car and thought of exploring the village by ourselves on foot but fortunately we met, by chance, a middle-aged Naga man in the casual dress, whose Burmese name is U Myint Aung of Makury clan and he inquired us our purpose to come here and we said to him we wanted to observe the way of life of the villagers living here as we haven’t been here before and this is our first time to be in the Naga Land even though we’ve been to most of the places in Burma. Accompanied by him, we had a stroll in the village and we stopped at, in front of one house where two women were spinning for weaving and their neighbouring old lady was sitting next to them, perhaps chatting with them, we took some pictures of them especially that of an old lady and we gave her one blouse with the name of our travel agency, Far East Princess Travel. We left them to visit a house of a Makuri Naga family of 3, a mother, a daughter and a father who is then not at home but working at their family owned farm outside the village. It’s a small simple low lying 1-story-house made of bamboo walls, thatch roof and the wooden posts, on the levelled natural ground smoothed with mud like an Indian way of levelling the ground with mud. There’s a fire place almost at the centre of the house with a hanging sooted bamboo rack above, tied with the ropes to the ceiling, to store food, next year crops and others. We sat on the low stools, talking over green tea offered by the daughter and mother and I took some pictures of them and their house. In fact, the mother who might be 70 years old did not keen on being taken photo as she said she was too thin and she might look like a monkey or a dog in the picture but I know for sure, for me, how beautiful she is in her age and I complimented her beauty. After staying there for few minutes, we continued to walk and met the middle-aged village administrator, Mr. Kathau and some more villagers, we greeted one another and he took us to a nice neat & tidy wooden house used for a village assembly hall, we were seated on the long bench just outside the house in a small clean open courtyard, treated to instant coffee mix and green tea and we had an interesting talk, then we went to meet his blind mother with blurred tattoo on her face at her house just a minute walk down from the assembly house while we experienced a day of sunny spells and sudden showers just for a while. We were invited inside her house and we spent few more minutes talking, drinking green tea, taking pictures of her.
Then we said a goodbye to them after giving them some presents including FEP Travel T-shirts before we left by car for another Makuri Naga village,“Sheinshi”, all the same way back in the direction of Leishi. U Myint Aung was given a lift in our car as he’s going to Leihsi and we were lucky as he helped us interpreting in talking to the villagers who don’t speak Burmese. After less than half-an-hour car drive, we got off the car to visit one house just off the road, where we met a senior Naga Lady alone, with tattoo on her beautiful face, as the other family members were working on farm that might be far from the village. We greeted her and we felt that she was good natured, we gave her as a present, a scarf with FEP Travel’s name sewed on it and we took nice pictures of her before we continued to walk up the hill slope where the small main village with few houses stands on. We walked and took pictures of the surrounding beautiful sceneries and met another old Naga woman with blurred tattooed face who was about to go to the forest to collect firewood, she was happy to be taken pictures by herself and with us and invited us to her house. We were also pleased to accept her invitation. We were joined by a young pastor who was assigned to be at this village for a year and he’s been here just for a few days if I’m not wrong and he’s a sociable young man and happy to receive us in such a remote area of Burma where only very few local & foreign tourists have ever visited. As usual, local green tea was offered to all of us by the charming hostess and we talked for few minutes before we left her house, then walked through this small village back to the car to continue our expedition to another Para Naga village of “Sappya” . Arriving there, we got off the car to walk down/up in and among the houses built on the slope of the hill, we saw a woman working on her farm just next to her house, she was farming mainly tapioca with the other crops and invited us to her house for green tea. We went inside her house, saw 2 children, sat around the low lying table & talked to her over the green tea for a few minutes. We got a handful of her tea leaves as a gift and in return, we gave a pocket money to her eldest child in return for their friendliness & hospitality. Then we left her house, continued to walk, taking pictures of houses, that of a sitting Naga woman in her courtyard who was smiling at us and telling one of her nephews to bring very low lying stool for us to sit on but we said no-thanks, kept on walking and we noticed some villagers were helping the village pastor building his house up on the top of the hill. Then we left for the fourth & last Para Naga village of “Deindalein” for our today itinerary, which is nearest to Leishi. When we got there, the whole village was silent and there seemed to be nobody there, but we saw a group of young children playing and one of them was running very fast barefoot like a marathoner away from our car to his house as he might think that our car is coming straight towards him. We got off a car and had a quick walk in the village to explore it and drove all the way back to Leishi for less than half-an-hour to “Sisiwan Restaurant” near the beauty parlor. The restaurant is run by U Kyusihtaung, who is a Makuri Naga clan and a chairman of the Naga Literature and Cultural Association in Leishi and we had our nice late lunch there.
After lunch, we drove for 45 minutes or so all the way down to the famous idyllic picnic spot known as Chaungson, Matugi, where there is a hydropower station. As the roadbuilding in some parts of the driving route was still in the process, it needs a professional driver and a good 4WD car which was not used in our case but thanks to our skillful driver Ko Linn, the trip was safe for us. Ko Linn is from Monywa and has been here in Leishi for 8 years by the time we met him, working for U Shida as a versatile not just as a mechanics-cum-driver, he’s such a nice sociable friendly chap, informative and have a sense of humour too and you won’t be bored travelling with him and all of us acknowledged that he’s a good travel companion. We were also amused with his first experience of trip to Leishi with his friends/colleagues of 7 or 8 auto-technicians from an Automobile Repair Shop in Monywa township, they were brought by U Shida to work for him at his workshop. He then thought of going back home on his way from Monywa to Leishi out of fear as he heard people there saying that the Naga tribes are cannibals or man-eaters who are fond of eating the flesh of human beings then he realized later that they were just pulling his legs. Ko Linn said most of the newly built road in Leishi and its surroundings were/have been done by him, i.e done by his boss’ construction company. We enjoyed very much Chaungson, which is in fact a stream with a couple of bamboo bridges built across it to join both sides of the stream. We went inside the compound of the hydropower station and looked around, then we headed to the stream and took a lot of pictures there including a herd of buffaloes relaxing by the bank of the stream while Ko Linn was washing his car caked with dust with the stream water, we saw a couple of fishermen fishing in the stream and a woman bathing and washing there. After enjoying time there for half an hour or so, we drove all the way back to Leishi and on the way, we saw 3 women going back home from their farms on foot with the bamboo baskets full of the vegetables and our driver greeted them as one of the women is a mother of a girl working for U Shida’s family and we gave them a lift and only 2-women joined us and 1-woman preferred to walk as she had a problem with a motion sickness with a car ride but her basket was brought in the car. On the way, at one village, the 2 women got off and one of them gave some vegetables to Ko Linn for U Shida’s family. We finally got back to the guesthouse, had a shower before we ate out at Myat Restaurant and car transports back & forth, were as usual, provided by the guesthouse and U Shida’s wife joined us with her nephew who was to be taken back to her mother’s house which is not far from the restaurant. Before dinner at the Myat restaurant, we went to see U Kyusihtaung, chairman of Naga Literature and Cultural Association at his house after our telephone appointment was accepted by him just few minutes before we left the guesthouse. Part of his house is used as the restaurant where we had our today delicious lunch, and another part of it, is English language Centre run by his youngest brother who speaks English well. We were received by the 2 brothers and we explained to them our reason to come here and out future plans in Leishi where the Naga New Year Festival is expected to be held on January 15, 2019 and I believe that they were happy to give us their hand regarding our trip planning for our potential foreign tourists to visit it. His youngest brother is willing to be in the tourism industry for himself and for the other younger Naga generation interested in this field of work. It can be imagined that Naga land is so far still isolated from the other parts of Burma. After a good conversation with them for 45 minutes or so, we left them for dinner at the aforesaid restaurant. I didn’t know why I felt yesterday dinner seemed to be better for me here at the same restaurant, then we called our driver who said to meet us at his boss’ wife’s daughter’s house which is not far from the restaurant, we walked out of the restaurant to them and we met them at a clothes shop and we drove back to the guesthouse and before we packed our bags & slept there for one more night, we met U Shida to settle with him the 2-night-accommodation bill plus the car fare for that day visit to the Naga villages & Chaungson through online Wave Money to his son in Monywa as we didn’t have enough money in cash left.
Day-5, Sunday, 4th March, 2018, Leishi-Htamanthi-Phaphoat, By Car/Boat
We woke up early to our alarm mobile set up at 05:30, had coffee & tea with biscuits offered only today by the guesthouse and then at 06:45, started our car drive for 3 hours or so to Htamanthi with 7 more passengers who were the ten-standard-students’ final exam invigilators from the State Ministry of Education, assigned to be at different cities during the exam period. Two women of them__one of them is quite big and quiet compared to her friend___, who could manage to sit on one seat, to our surprise, in the first row next to the driver, who was the same Naga owner-driver Ko Lupaut, who drove us to Leishi 2 days ago and we did book him for our return since then, 3 of us took the 2nd row behind, which is normally for 4 passengers and accordingly we paid of course for 4-pax and at the back in the open truck, are the rest of the passengers with luggage and some cargoes. The other woman who is neither big not small and loves to talk a lot, entertained all of us joking most of the driving hours and all of us had a good talk and we didn’t feel bored thanks to this lovely talkative chatterbox. She also said to us that my cousin and I should not go to one Naga village to the south-west of Leishi near Indian border because of the possible danger we might face but we’re not that sure whether she was serious or not.
We made a break at the same tea shop at 25th mile for half an hour or so but this time, we didn’t eat there, instead we tried another one across the road, adjacent to the first one. We ordered the instant noodle soups for us because we had a very light breakfast at the guesthouse in Leishi and we were hungry, I got some nice pictures of an old Naga woman sitting by the fire in the kitchen where our food was prepared. We had our noodle with a great relish over green tea. In fact, we noticed that tea plantation has organically been done a lot in the Naga Land and the taste of green tea there for me is up to my expectation ___very good taste! At the tea shop, we met a group of Naga people who were going to the Tangkhul Naga clan’s religious and cultural festival held at Phaphoat village by the Chindwin River, our friendly talkative Naga lady introduced us to a middle-aged Naga pastor among them who is said to be her uncle and he showed his friendliness to us and then we continued to drive to Htamanthi for about 1-&-1/2 hours. We had our early lunch at the same restaurant, explored Htamanthi on foot, while we were waiting for any available shuttles cruising downstream in the Chindwin River. Then we took one shuttle with the help of Zaw Zaw and for this time even though we thought of taking any vacant upper class room but all were occupied so we had no choice just to take normal seats for three of us at the back of the boat. After sitting there for few minutes, because the 3 guys sitting near us were smoking which I could not put up with, we decided to move to the vacant seats at the front of the boat and we made a good move as we could enjoyed the fresh breeze there with no toxic smoke. After almost 3 hours cruise, if I remembered right, our boat landed at Phaphoat village, we got off the boat bringing our bags by ourselves, walked for 3 minutes to the village entrance, took a rest at a tea shop which is one of the houses in the front row facing the river, we talked to and inquired the tea-shop owners and the others sitting there for the festival and for our one-night homestay at the village as we knew this in advance that there are no guesthouses there. I had my noodle soup and my two travel companions had coffee which I tasted a bit. We were taken by one villager to the festival ground, he left us with a young man called Ko Nay Linn Htun, who was the secretary of the Information and Public Relation of the festival and who, in turn, took us to the festival chairperson, U Pan Aung and another Chairman Emeritus in their makeshift tent of bamboo and thatch by the entrance of the festival ground. After realizing our purpose of visiting their festival and after learning that we were acquaintances of the heads of the central committee of the Naga Literature and Cultural association of the whole of the Naga Land, they were also happy with our visit there and willing to give us a helping hand. As usual, we were given cups of green tea during our conversation while U San Hlaing, who was a designer for the decorations of the festival stage and others, came to see us and we learnt that we were to sleep at his house that night and we also realized that his house is just behind the tea shop where we had had our coffee & noodle soup before. Then U Pan Aung showed us around the festival ground where we saw and took the pictures of the following:
(1) A Stage with a podium for a speaker and lectern to stand on, with the musical instruments behind,
(2) A covered-makeshift hall just in front of the stage, for the people to listen to a priest’s lectures or to watch the performance on the stage ,
(3) The temporary bamboo-thatch shops selling souvenirs, traditional Naga clothes, plastic toys for children, a few food stalls selling fritters, popcorn and others.
(4) Two long rows of the low-lying bamboo and thatch makeshift camps to be used as lodgings for the Tangkhul Naga clan coming from cir 25 villages in the Naga highland in the far north-west of Burma bordering India.
(5) 4 or 5 water tanks made of thick plastic tarpaulins to store water for cooking, washing kitchen utensils mainly for the campers. To wash clothes and to have a bath, they go to the river.
(6) A building of bamboo & thatch used as the centre for Information & Public Relations, where U Pan Aung and his team stationed themselves.
After exploring the festival ground, U Pan Aung took us to the Kitchen, which in fact, was temporarily made for the festival in the compound of the ground of the church that is just a simple stilt wooden house with corrugated iron sheet roof for their Sunday school. We were introduced to the cooking team taking care of the merrymakers for two meals a day and we took some pictures of the kitchen, its team and its surroundings. As U Pan Aung was quite busy, he left us and we went inside a home-shop just across the street, opposite to the church ground, to check out what was available there, we didn’t buy anything and we were offered to relax at a place in the compound where there was a square-shaped wooden table with 2 benches. We sat there for few minutes and a friendly house owner came to have a chat with us and again we inquired him about the information of the village and the festival and we realized that was the 1st time for the festival as the festival is rotating on the yearly basis and we also learnt that he has been studying by himself to be a traditional physician. Then we explored the village on foot by ourselves along the street by the river shore all the way to one end of the village, taking photos including the photos of some Naga men having their hair cut in their traditional hairstyle for the festival, of children and women in their traditional dress. We saw women and men going to the river to have a bath, we walked up the hill with the church on its top and some houses up there and the panoramic view form there is fantastic. Some young men from the houses came to greet us and we relaxed, took pictures, enjoyed our time there until U Pan Aung called us to join him for dinner at the ground of the church, where we had our dinner together with U Pan Aung at the temporarily made long benches and tables for the diners just below the stilt religious building. The food simply prepared for all the diners were 1 main dish of pork, 1 soup and a too-much-spicy eatable called Shwe-hlan-bo with steamed rice but as one of us doesn’t eat pork, she was given fried egg that was shared by U Pan Aung as he doesn’t eat meat and we will never forget Shwe-hlan-bo which is for us similar to spicy fishpaste salad with very hot chilli. He introduced us some diners coming after us and we were left there after dinner as U Pan Aung had a lot to do for the festival. In fact, he said they’d been preparing for the festival for one month by then. We went out and had a conversation with the traditional physician, who was guessed to be a sort of black magician by one of our trip participants then we went again to the village-front tea shop to have coffee until a handsome young Naga man, Ko Maung Maung, who is U San Hlaig’s nephew, with his friends came to take us to his uncle house helping to carry our bags and he was friendly to offer us his help if there was anything he could. We met U San Hlaing at his house and his nephew introduced us to his uncle saying that his uncle was the house owner & took care of the decoration of the festival and his uncle said to him that we had already known each other through U Pan Aung’s introduction before. After leaving our bags there and saying thanks to both of them, we went to the physician’s house again and then to the main entrance of the festival ground where we saw the young Naga maids all in their finery, taking pictures of themselves and we took pictures of them and also with them. Then we noticed that the guitarists on the stage stopped their playing guitars as the announcements of the beginning of the group dance competition from 7 villages for that day, came from the Information and Public Relations. It was done in turn __one village after another__, coming out of the crowd, dancing around the table where the 3 male referees were sitting on the chairs to make judgements for the winning groups under the light installed at the top of the wooden post.
We went to the dancing ground sitting near the dancing place taking pictures of the dancers until the competition was over. The dancers are beautifully dressed up in their traditional colorful clothes which are so beautiful for us and dazzling in the electric light which is enlightened more by the light of the moon and the stars in the beautiful starry sky. We donated some money for the festival at the Information counter with the help of U Pan Aung and we said thanks to him and we told him we were leaving the next day early in the morning by whatever available boat to Homalin. After saying good night and good bye to him, we left for U San Hlaing’s house to sleep there for that night. We were given 2 rooms up stair, where the blankets, pillows were on the mat prepared for us, we saw some were sleeping on the down stair when we walked up through the wooden staircase that joins the up and down stairs. For me, I had had a sound sleep after a tiring but interesting long day ___all the way from Leishi by car, by boat plus our more than half-day-nice experience of the festival plus the village life there__ but I learnt the next day that my cousin could not sleep well caused by the noise from the pigeons sleeping in the ceiling right above him.
Day-6, Monday, 5th March, 2018, Phaphoat- Homalin by boat
We woke up early in the morning at 05:45 to our set alarmed mobile, after freshening ourselves up and saying good bye to the hostess of the house who also woke up early to prepare tea/coffee for us, but we didn’t take it as we didn’t want them to take the trouble for us and left for the village-front tea shop for the last time to have a cup of coffee and to wait for the downstream shuttle to Homalin. While one of us was waiting at the tea shop, my cousin and I went to the morning street market just a stone-throw distance from us and took pictures there, then back to the tea shop until the shuttle came. The shuttle was not that comfortable with the very low roof, there are no seats but to sit on the floor, which is, in fact, the hull of the boat. The downstream with this small shuttle took 3 hours or so and we got to Homalin on the east bank of the Chindwin River in the end. We got off the boat and we walked in the strand street to Rati Guesthouse, the best one in Homanlin according to my cousin’s online research. We checked in at the hotel and we collected the information on Homalin from the young receptionist who was willing to answer our questions, then after having a shower at our room with AC & attached bathroom, we ate out for lunch at one local restaurant, “Super Win “, two of us went to the restaurant in advance and one of us went to get cash from the only one ATM machine at the only existing KBZ bank in the town, with a mechanical error that we realized when we got back to Yangon 10 days later. What happened was that my cousin first tried for the maximum amount of K.300,000 to be taken out of the machine but it’s shown on the screen of the ATM machine as “ Insufficient amount “ in his account, but in reality, the amount was already reduced from his account by the bank. So he tried for the less amount, K.100,000 for the 2nd time, and it worked. After that he came to join us at the restaurant for his lunch and said to us what happened with the ATM machine and he didn’t understand why he could not get his intended amount from the machine even though he knew he had enough cash in his account. After lunch we went back to the hotel to have a rest for a couple of hours as there was not much to do in this town and on the way back, we checked another guesthouse, “Myittashweyi” overlooking the Chindwin River on the strand street, which is not too bad in this remote area and should be in the 2nd priority compared to Rati, as there were no other choices then in Homalin apart from these two guesthouses for accommodation.
After a rest, we came down from our room and we met the young owner and from him, we collected the information on the best possible transports for the coming Leishi Naga Festival in January 2019 and also for our next day car transport from the guesthouse to the Homalin Airport. Then we walked to the same bank to get more money from its ATM machine, then proceeded to walk to the only recommended soft drink shop in this town, called “Htin Paw” also on the strand street overlooking the Chindwin River, had our drinks there and walked back along the strand street to our guest house, on the way, we made a stop at a post office to greet the post master, a colleague of the uncle of one of our travel companions but we didn’t meet her as she already went out to have her daily walk for exercise. While one of us went ahead of us to the guesthouse we stayed, for a rest, two of us walked past the guesthouse to explore the area a bit more, then I went down to the edge of the river for the sunset, taking sunset pictures with an old woman working on the peanut field as a foreground while my travel companion went back to the guest house. Before the sun set completely, I called my travel companions to enjoy the sunset with me, then we had dinner together at the nearby restaurant and made an overnight stop at the guesthouse.
Day-7, Tuesday, 6th March, 2018, Homalin-Mandalay-Yangon
We woke up in the morning, freshened ourselves up, went out to the nearby Shan food stall recommended by the same young receptionist of the guesthouse, to have breakfast there but the food there was not up to our taste, walked to a tea shop to have Indian flat bread aka paratha/prata with boiled pea in oil, seasoning over tea/coffee & green tea and then went back to the guesthouse, finished the packing of our luggage and were ready for check-out after settling the room & minibar bill. At 10 am, we took a Pajero booked through the guesthouse the previous day for K.10,000 to Homalin airport, it’s just less than 10 minutes drive. The procedure of check-in at the airline counter of Myanmar National Airways and the clearance of immigration and security there in terms of both in manpower and in machine, was not as systematic as in the other airports of Burma but as we know things can get done in the end in one way or the other. When we asked the staff from the MNA for the flight on time or not, they told us it would be half an hour delay because of the bad weather and we realized it’s foggy again. Then 2 of us got out of the airport’s inner waiting lounge after requesting the airport security to explore the shops and restaurants outside on the other side of the road, just in front of the airport. We browsed them and sat at one restaurant to have baked dried snake-headed fish over green tea and then went back to the waiting lounge and took the 1-hour-20-minute flight to Mandalay, where we had lunch at the airport restaurant, “ Café Espace ” at the outer lounge inside the building of the Mandalay airport and waited for 3-hours there, then went to our gate at the inner waiting lounge after the procedure of security check, check-in at the GMA (the Golden Myanmar Airlines ), and then one more security check and immigration clearance, to catch the 1-hour-20-minute flight back to Yangon after 1-more waiting hour before boarding the plane for our flight. Arriving at the Yangon International Airport, collecting our luggage and took a taxi back home for 1 hour.